A Knife Fight In Aix

The south of France.  Aix-en-Provence.  Sounds pretty tony, right?   We thought so to, but were willing to give it a go anyway.  It is conveniently located near the intersection of two major highways and a central point for many of the things we wanted to see on our France trip.

Driving in, we were impressed by its majestic squares, shaded avenues, mossy fountains, and elegant mansions.  We checked into our hotel and went to dinner.  We went to Place des Cardeurs because it is a big piazza with lots of restaurants to choose from and outdoor seating.  It wasn’t anything fancy (he had a pizza and I had a big salad).

Right after our food arrived, we saw a scuffle on the sidewalk between the terrace where we were eating and the restaurant.  It was a Saturday night and a bit early for a bar fight, but hey, the local culture is different everywhere.  All of a sudden, one of the combatants pulled a knife out of his pants.

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II - Copyrigh...

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II – Copyright 1988, Paramount Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan says “that’s not a knife, THAT’s a knife.”  This guys knife made Paul Hogan’s look like a butter knife.  He had a machete.  What’s more, he was swinging it around.  The two guys (for the ease of explaining things, we’ll call them the Surly Drunks) jumping Mr. Machete both got slashed.  Waitstaff on the terrace borrowed cell phones and to cal the police.  By that point, we’d I’d stopped eating…for the rest of the night.

Our ringside seats. This all happened behind the vinaigre bottle. I didn’t want to attract the attention of the Surly Drunks and figured there were enough witnesses so I didn’t take any pictures.

Since it was two on one, Mr. Machete took refuge inside the restaurant.  We found out later that he was a local business owner; the area businesses clearly knew him.  The manager, servers and kitchen staff barred the door to separate (and protect) everyone until the police arrived.  The Surly Drunks outside were bleeding, possibly high, probably in shock and definitely not rational.  The Surly Drunks kept screaming for the him to come out and were talking a lot trash.  When he didn’t exit the restaurant, they tried, unsuccessfully, to force their way in.   The posse of servers, managers and cooks stopped them.  Angered by their failure, the Surly Drunks began breaking bottles and brandishing them.  They cut a cook before dropping the bottle in favor of hurling giant planters.   They threw some punches too.  He said they threw the punches like NBA players, not like hockey players.  Realizing they sucked at hand to hand combat, the Surly Drunks stopped throwing punches and started throwing chairs.

I’m not saying that police in the US always respond promptly (especially in certain neighborhoods), but we were astounded by how long it took the police to arrive in the center of town.  It took them at least 20 minutes to arrive.  Thank goodness the cooks had come out of nearby restaurants and followed the Surly Drunks so that the police could track them down.

The police arrived and went inside to interview Mr. Machete.  Paramedics came, tended to to the cook and took him away.  We’re pretty sure he had to go to the hospital for stitches because the slash on his neck was pretty ugly.

Cover of "Léon: The Professional (Theatri...

Cover via Amazon

Jean Reno plays and excellent French police officer in movies (Leon: The ProfessionalRoninThe Da Vinci Code,  French Kiss).  The police we saw didn’t appear to be as professional.   They seemed to be more like Louis de Funès in the Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez.  I saw them put evidence (multiple bloody shirts) in an old, balled up H&M  bag.  Obviously they do not watch CSI.

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep! That’s the evidence in the H&M bag. Très CSI.

Go figure.  I saw more violence in the south of France than during the years I lived in Detroit.  Have a great weekend and stay safe!

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Easter In Sweden

Easter celebrations in secular Sweden are comparable to Christmas for the secular American.  While some attend church on Easter Sunday, for a majority of Swedes many of the celebrations have little to do with Christian beliefs.  Easter is a big deal in Sweden and the entire country partakes in their holiday traditions.   We were in Sweden weeks before Easter, but signs of it were already everywhere.   The Swedes seemed to look forward to Easter as a sign of spring.

I asked a nice lady at the National Museum gift shop about branches with colored feathers attached to them.  In the 12 hours I’d spent in Sweden, I’d seen them countless times.  She explained to me that Easter in Sweden is kind of like Halloween in the US.  In Sweden, children dress up as witches, paint their faces, carry brooms and knock on their neighbor’s doors for treats.

The schedule is a bit different than in the US.  Many of the traditions predate Christianity and were incorporated into Easter celebrations over the years:

  • Palmsöndag (Palm Sunday) Instead of picking up palm leaves or other branches from the church, Swedes pick up pussy willows.  They are also used as an Easter decoration.
  • Svarta måndag (black Monday) is when chimneys were traditionally swept.
  • The Thursday before Easter, Skärtorsdag (Holy Thursday), Swedish children dress up as påskkärringar (witches) and go trick-or-treating…well, sort of.   Skärtorsdagen is the day of the Last Supper.  Swedes considered it a dangerous day to be out, because the old spirits were let loose.  The night was a time for the devil, who wanted you to sign a contract exchanging for riches for your soul.  Hence the witches…

  • Good Friday is more appropriately named in Swedish Långfredag – Long Friday.  No fun may be had on this day (to mourn of the crucifixion of Christ).  In fact, public entertainment was prohibited until 1969.   The fun recommences on Saturday morning.
  • Saturday night is Påskafton (the Christmas eve of Easter), a day for feasting and eating.  Families sit down to dinners of eggs and lamb, representing the fertility of the spring and the rebirth of the year after the long winter.   They also have special crackers and exchange cards.  Traditionally children make drawings of witches, chickens and eggs accompanied by a few words.  In the late afternoon, bonfires are lit in many areas to scare off the evil influences.
  • During Easter week in Sweden, it is taboo to get married or baptize a child.

By the way, Swedes also have beautifully decorated Easter eggs, both decorative and edible.

Now We Understand Why Everyone Likes Megève

We’d heard wonderful things about Megève and heard of its reputation as the “jewel” of French alpine ski resorts.  It’s a major ski resort and there are good reasons for Megève’s popularity.  We had a great day skiing there last weekend. The wonderful weather and virtually cloudless skies didn’t hurt.

It offers fantastic skiing, stunning views, lots of restaurants and just about every convenience you can imagine. Its location is idyllic in the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.  Many runs have a nice view of Mt. Blanc’s summit.  Many of the other resorts in the area, like Les Contamines, are above the tree line.  Megève has runs cut through the trees. It was quite busy, there were so many runs that we never felt that it was never crowded.

Megève offers great skiing for all levels. Megève’s slopes are have more easier runs than Chamonix or Courcheval’s.  Don’t worry though, there are plenty of red and blacks.  While there is plenty for beginners, the upper intermediate skiing terrain predominates and there are opportunities to go off piste.  Although, if you read yesterday’s avalanche post and watched the videos, you may not want to.

There are restaurants everywhere.  The food, atmosphere and crowds vary.  We got a later start on the slopes and just had a waffle (gauffre de Liege) at about 4:00.  It was beyond tasty; the wonderful view of Mt. Blanc made it even better.

By the end of the day, the snow at low altitudes was turning to slush.  We realized that if this weather keeps up, we wouldn’t have too many more weekends to ski.  In fact, I’m posting this at six something on a Saturday morning before we take off to ski.  As always, I’ll report back.

The slushy bit (and horses) on our way down

Find Everything From the Everyday To the Eclectic At Geneva’s Plainpalais Flea Market

Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic.  Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.

There are several reasons to love flea markets.  They include:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
  • Individuality.  Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
  • It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
  • Phenomenal people watching.
  • Sustainability.  Keep something from going into the rubbish bin.  Recycle it.
  • It’s free to go walk around.  It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
  • In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family.  When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
  • Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?

Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848.  It is not as large as those in some larger European cities.  Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality.  As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.

Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:

  • Old books,
  • CD’s

  • Kitchen gadgets;
  • Dishes and cutlery;
  • Decorative and practical household wares;

  • Furniture;
  • Antiques;
  • Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;

  • Clocks;
  • Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
  • Records;

  • Old watches and watch parts,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Toys

  • Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
  • A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
  • 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;

You can also find more unique higher end pieces.  Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).

People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.

Most items are not marked with a price.  You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”?  Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy.  When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway).  I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse.  Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.”  Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain.  Oh yeah, and have fun.

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